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Discovering Japan's Most Beguiling City and the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto

All Images Credit Ritz-Carlton Hotels

Some holiday experiences we never forget. These destinations provide unforgettable sights, are rich in culture, and the experiences that we take away and cherish long after the luggage has been unpacked back home. Kyoto in Japan is such a place. A place with thousands of years of history and a heritage of imposing samurai, mysterious geisha, and surrounded by mountains, rivers and beautiful nature.  The ultimate way to take in all that this beautifully exotic destination has to offer is a stay in its most tony address, The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto.


There’s a reason why 50 million visitors per year descend on Kyoto. Centuries ago it was the former seat of power for Japan before the capital was moved to Tokyo. Today this bewitching city offers tourists multiple UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites, ancient temples and shrines, and palaces with gorgeous Japanese gardens to explore. The must-see sites include the geisha districts, the old Imperial Palace, the Nazenji Temple and the Kinkaku-ji or Golden Temple.  The Fushimi Inari Shrine is known for its thousands of bright orange vermilion torri gates that cover miles of steps and trails from the main temple through a demanding hike to the peak of a mountain.  Not far from the hotel is the bustling Shijo-dori shopping area filled with plenty of trendy shops. The nearby Gion geisha district is a must visit area with traditional maniya townhouse and low lit streets where you’ll find many tourists to experiencing a tea ceremony or dinner at the many restaurants there.    


The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto is centrally located in the city along the Kamogawa River with views of the prestigious Higashiyama mountain range as the backdrop. Past the entrance, the city’s high energy and hustle are replaced with a Zen-like atmosphere created with sounds from a gurgling waterfall. Once inside, guests step into an opulent environment of magnificent Japanese style and design at every turn.


The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto has aptly been described as a modern-day luxury ryokan where traditional Japanese design elements are evident in the craftsmanship and details of the hotel. Overall, the color palate and furnishings are minimalist but the detailed craftsmanship is anything but. There are latticed bamboo walls, lacquer painted furniture and the ubiquitous shippo patterns which are detailed painted metalwork for which Kyotoa is known. In the staircase there is a gargantuan bamboo light fixture by the artisan who creates the umbrellas for the Imperial family.


Beyond the finest of Japanese craftsmanship, the hotel’s priceless and gorgeous art collection was commissioned from eighty artists who created more than 400 sculptures and paintings which are located throughout the hotel. The masterful collection was inspired by the Japanese novel, The Tale of Genji, which is about the life and loves of an Emperor's son during the 11th century. Guests will also admire the stunning bonsai trees, with their twists, turn and knotted branches, found throughout the hotel.


The hotel’s 134 spacious accommodations continue the design ethos of a traditional Meiji-era houses with exquisite Japanese design details of light oak paneled walls, cherry blossom motifs wall fabrics, calligraphic artworks, mood lighting as well as a bonsai tree and delicate orchids. The opulence of the accommodation extends to the bathroom which features a wet room with deep soaking bath, large enough for two, rain fall shower and wood panel floor planks, and electronic hygienic toilet. Beyond the western style bedding,  guests can opt for a traditional  Japanese tatami mats and futons.


The Luxury suite features a comfortable living space with a lounge couch as well as an uber comfortable bed with 600 thread counts sheets and bedside smart panel to control the room lighting and drapes. The main feature of the room is rectangle wood feature that extends from the floor to ceiling widow and frames a spectacular view. In this space there is a table and chairs that begs one to sit and take in the views of the Kamo River and the Higashiyama Mountains while enjoying a tea in your Yukata before starting the day’s adventures. In addition, the urban resort  offers 17 suites that range in size and amenities with many offering Zen gardens and outdoor terraces.


Kyoto is known as an epicurean’s paradise with countless Michelin rated restaurant in the city. Guests will want to think twice when venturing away to dine as the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto provides several fantastic dining options and one with a Michelin star of their own.


La Locanda is the hotel’s Italian fine dining restaurant offering a decadent prix fixe degustation menu. The appetite is aroused first by the sight of its chic and sexy design of dark colors, mood lighting and comfy round banquet tables. The menu features traditional Italian dishes, homemade pastas but with distinct Japanese touches including locally sourced produce. The restaurants boasts an extensive wine cellar with selections from around the world which are expertly paired with each dish.   In the center of the restaurant sits the  Ebisugawa-tei which is a preserved historically-listed Japanese mansion from 1908 which has now been repurposed into an exquiste ambiance for private dining.


It is as if the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto set out to expose their guests to the best that Japan, and Kyoto in particular, has to offer in terms of hospitality, accommodations and experiences. Nowhere is that more on display than in their Japanese fine dining restaurant, Mizuki. Mizuki is actually a grand restaurant with views of a stone garden, waterfall, and has a traditional Japanese décor.  Mizuki offers four distinct Japanese style dining experiences of Sushi, Tempura, Teppan, and Kaiseki cuisine. Tempura Mizuki is the recipient of the restaurant’s Michelin star.   


Kaiseki is a dining experience unlike any in the world an originated in Kyoto. It is a culinary journey into precision and detail and dates back to the 9th century imperial court and the times of the samurai. This is Japanese Haute cuisine served on a series of artistic small plates, trays, or in a Jubako box which is a beautiful work of art personally chosen by the executive chef to compliment his culinary creations. Each Kaiseki dish is beautifully presented and garnished with edible flowers and begins with an Amuse-bouche, followed by small dishes of sushi, sashimi, vegetables fish, meats, rice and then a sweet ending. The complex concept at Mizuki for their Kaiseki is Go-mi, Go-syoku, Go-ho or five flavors, five colors, and five cooking methods which and can be experiences with each dish. If a typical gourmet meal could be compared to a musical band, one could compare Mizuki Kaiseki to a symphony orchestra led by Mozart himself.  


The reason that we travel is for the sights and experiences and to immerse ourselves, if only for a few days, into the heritage, natural beauty, and culture of an exotic environment.  The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto has created an extensive menu of experiences that allow guest to go beyond the role of spectator in order to experience Kyoto.


Led by the hotel’s activity staff, guests have the chance to explore Kyoto with a challenging hike to a mountain that overlooks the city. It’s a thrilling excursion that begins with an electric bike ride, alongside the Kamo River through the city and a number of beautiful temples, neighborhoods, tree lined pathways to the base of the mountain. The exhilarating hike goes through the forest and streams and natural beauty of the mountain and then opens to a panoramic view overlooking the city from 500 meters above sea level.


While in Kyoto, you’ll see tourists and locals dressed in beautiful Kimonos. The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto offers its guests the Kimono experience which begins with a visit to a kimono dresser who has spent a lifetime dressing and making kimono for Japan’s elite.  A private fitting takes place where guests, both men and women, pick out their favorite color and style of kimono as well as the traditional shoes. After a few photo ops, the experience continues with an epic rickshaw tour around the old streets of Kyoto as your uber-fit rickshaw guide trots along the city with you in tow sharing the sites and pointing out key landmarks, the geisha district, and several  areas of the old town. Its amazing to see Kyoto this way especially bedecked in your lovely kimono.   


Kyoto is after all the land of the samurai who were fearless warriors that protected the towns of this region for centuries. Although they may no longer protect the area,  their legacy is still revered. The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto provides guests the opportunity to become a samurai for the day and to learn about the ways of the samurai from a kenbu master who shares the history, tradition, and practices of these revered warriors.  Guests then dress up in the costume of the samurai which is then followed by an intense lesson. Prepare to build a sweat as well as learn swordsmanship wielding these real swords in an intense and unforgettable workshop.    


After all of that this incredible destination has to offer, guests will at some point want to slow down and decompress. Nowhere is that better to do than at the Ritz-Carlton Spa, Kyoto.  The Spa is located at the bottom floor of the hotel at the base of the hotel's water fall with seven treatment rooms, a lovely relaxation area, a state-of-the-art fitness center,  as well as a 65-foot swimming pool. The spa offers a wide range of treatments using at ESPA products while incorporating Japanese influences such as green tea leaves or acupuncture with dry Shiatsu. One treatment sure to release tension from deep in sore muscles is the Kyoto Bamboo Ritual which uses heated bamboo sticks and warm oil in a massage as well as stretching techniques to improve flexibly and freeing tight muscles.  Yhe staff is extremely well-trained and friendly and there to make sure you get the most out of your spa therapy.


A few years ago, Travel and Leisure named Kyoto as the number one city in the world for a holiday. They could not have chosen a better place. The culture, ancient architecture, ornate temples, and a proud heritage make it a must visit destination for any well-heeled traveler. What the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto has been able to do is to capture this amazing destination’s heritage, culture, and even its spirit and marry that with the Ritz-Carlton’s approach to hospitality. The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto offers, bar none, the quintessential way to experience Kyoto.

Glenn Harris

Glenn Harris is an accomplished journalist focusing on international travel, fine dining, and luxury lifestyle events. His wanderlust has taken him to over 105 countries where he is constantly straying off the beaten path uncovering new and exotic finds. He particularly enjoys seeking out lesser known travel gems and places to stay, dine, or experiences to capture. ...(Read More)

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